Breathe In, Cash Out
Breathe In, Cash Out is the honest Wall Street book I didn’t know I wanted to read. Having recently joined the Accounting/Finance world (after 5 years in NYC for school), I’m intimately familiar with the lifestyle this book depicts. And while I’ve enjoyed reading about alpha-male CEOs in the past—and will again in the future—it was refreshing to read a book that depicted the unvarnished truth of life on Wall Street. That said, the further into the book I got, the less certain I was of loving it.
Allegra Cobb is a success by practically anyone’s definition. She was top of her class in high school, graduated with honors from Princeton, and landed a job as an investment banking analyst post-grad at Anderson Shaw, the top firm in the industry. She lives in New York City, makes good money, and could shortly be earning billions if she plays her career cards right. So many people would be jealous of Allegra’s life… but she wants out.
There are basically two reasons for this feeling. The primary one is that Allegra’s true passion is yoga, and she’d like to become a yoga teacher. But even apart from this, her job has drained her to the point of insanity. She works through the night, seven days a week, and still gets flak from her managers about being unavailable. There’s no balance in Allegra’s life – it’s just crabby people and demanding tasks, and the hopeless dream of leaving everything behind to lie in savasana (corpse pose) and enjoy fifteen minutes of peace.
The good news is that Allegra’s two-year contract will be up soon, and she’s making moves to get more involved in the world of yoga. When an Instagram-famous yogi named Skylar reaches out to her, Allegra is thrilled, and the two begin to meet up regularly, with Skylar giving Allegra advice on how to incorporate the values of yoga into her life and find peace. Unfortunately, for someone who only wants to help people, Skylar is remarkably bad at listening to what Allegra’s life is like and giving advice that works with her limitations.
It’s painful to watch someone in a downward spiral. Allegra goes from exhausted, overworked, and stressed, to all those things plus incompetent. She begins making bad decisions as she tries to juggle her job and yoga, and her work suffers as a result. While she does eventually grow calmer and more certain of herself, this portion of the book sort of turned me off Allegra.
Some characters use their struggles to define themselves and grow into better people. Quite honestly, I’m not convinced that Allegra was a better person at the end of her journey. She’s unquestionably happier and more at peace with her life, but one of the things I hated most about downward-spiral-Allegra was her tendency to focus on her own needs and ignore how what she did affected her friends and coworkers. Even after she’s left investment banking behind, Allegra’s narrative still felt self-centered. One of her friends/coworkers (and eventual love interest) took the fall for a mistake she made at work and landed in some hot water. Yet as she’s quitting, it doesn’t occur to Allegra to set the record straight on this. She’s so focused on her own needs and what will bring her peace that either she forgets to think about what her friends need, or she just assumes they can manage themselves.
I think this aspect of Allegra’s character comes – in part – from her environment. The author does a great job setting the scene of Allegra’s office and work life. Though I did get a little tired of the constant references to her work on slide decks and document formatting, it’s undeniably accurate and should make sense even to people who don’t work in the industry. The one thing that isn’t clear is why Allegra – or anyone – would want to operate in this world, apart from greed. Everyone seems to be overworked and out for themselves, talking about what sorts of bonuses they’ll win and what job they’ll move on to next. Surrounded by this day after day, it’s understandable that Allegra would start to focus solely on her own needs.
Although I had frustrations with both Allegra and her choices in this book, I’d still recommend it. Breathe In, Cash Out is probably not for everyone – if you’re sick of talking about PowerPoint, or want a strong romance, for example, this book may not be for you. While there is a romantic element here, it’s very much on the back-burner and not something I felt strongly about one way or another. However, if you have any familiarity with Corporate America, I’d suggest giving this book a try. Even if you haven’t lived this exact life, you’re probably familiar with it, and there’s something really wonderful about acknowledging that working late is exhausting rather than sexy.